The Confusions and Dangers of a Church of Mercy: Anglican Musings on a Catholic Dispute

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A little over a year into the pontificate of Pope Francis but still two years away from the new pontiff’s much-discussed apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and its thinly veiled criticism by four of the Catholic Church’s own cardinals, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, himself a Catholic, wrote a long essay for the paper’s Sunday review in which he suggested that the time might have arrived for self-consciously conservative Catholics to “resist” the pope.

At that point I had been already been a longtime reader of Douthat—in my judgment and in that of many others, he’s the best columnist at work for a daily newspaper we have—but, knowing his conservative perspective as I did, even I wasn’t prepared for that charge. Had things really deteriorated to such an extent that conservative Roman Catholics felt that they had to assume such a posture of opposition to one who, only months earlier, seemed poised to revive the church at its heart: by modeling and proclaiming a renewed emphasis on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ?

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But what interested me even more than that provocative salvo in the Sunday review was the follow-up piece posted to his blog at the Times’ website a few days later. Writing in the venerable genre of “Why I Am a Catholic,” Douthat offered this explanation for his alarm over Pope Francis’ apparent softening of the church’s stance on matters of sexual morality:

I am a Catholic… because I am a mostly-faithful Christian who is mostly convinced that Roman Catholicism is the expression of Christianity that has kept faith most fully with the early church and the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself…. So if you asked me, as a secular or Protestant reader might be inclined to do, “do you believe that marriage is indissoluble because the pope...
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